Saturday, 25 August 2012

Wool Series

Titles: Wool; Proper Gauge; Casting Off
Series: Wool #1-3
Author: Hugh Howey
Pages: 298 total (ebook)
Published: July/November/December 2011
Published by: Broad Reach Publishing

Blurb from the omnibus edition (Wool #1-5)
This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.

The world has gone to pot, and what remains of humanity resides within a silo: a self-sufficient tower with all they need to survive. Including a window onto the outside, so they can always see the corrosion of the planet due to the toxic atmosphere. The very worst crimes are punishable by cleaning: being sent outside to clean the camera lenses which give them this picture, shortly followed by certain death in spite of the protective suits they are given.

I'll hold my hands up and admit that I started reading this series because they were free ebooks. What's not to like about that? Free stuff is always good! It gives me a chance to explore new authors, and if I don't like them it doesn't even matter 'cos it doesn't cost a thing - a win/win situation the way I see it. But this series is definitely an overall win: I've read the three books over the past two and a half months and thoroughly enjoyed each one of them.

They all follow a separate character, but the progression from character to character makes sense, and all follows and continues the thread of the same story. They each have a distinct voice and move the story forwards in their own way, slowly showing you something of the extent of the corruption within the silo.

First is Holston, the sheriff of the silo. His story unfolds both the present day, and with flashbacks to three years earlier when his wife had gone crazy and demanded to be let outside. The descriptions of life within the silo are well done, and you aren't overloaded with details being thrown at you. They're slipped in naturally in the narrative, and you build up a picture throughout each of the books. By the end of the book, you find out what caused his wife's actions, and come to a shocking realisation about the internal workings of the silo.

Book two picks up right after, this time with Mayor Jahns providing the story. She and the deputy sheriff - Marnes - set off on a journey down the depth of the silo, right to the Mech levels right at the very bottom. This one has more of an information-y feel, giving you more about the functioning of the silo and the power struggles, as well as more clues to the underlying conspiracy. Complete with another shock ending, you are slowly pulled more and more into this world.

The third book followed Juliette as she tries to adjust to life on the top levels after spending decades down in the Mech level. She understands machines, not people, but the analogies she draws between the two are wonderful. Her journey is probably my favourite thus far and I really like her character. She's smart, and quickly gets to grips with the things she needs to, even when thrown in a little at the deep end. The end of this book is the most gripping of the three, and I'm incredibly interested to see what happens in the next book.

Howey has created a wonderfully unique voice for each character, the life they've lived tinting the way they think, the way they see and understand the world and those around them. The silo is well thought out, though the world-building is limited, namely because of the limitations of the whole world being confined to a tower. The plot doesn't really suffer because of this, though. It's interesting and goes along at a good pace. Each book is longer than the last (70, 107 and 122 pages respectively), so each story arc is given more time to develop as you learn more.

Obviously, you know things that the characters in books 2 and 3 don't know - you've followed the progression of events and are party to things that they just can't know, so you have a much more complete view of things than either of them do. You have to sit through them discovering or working out things that you already know, but for the most part this isn't a significant issue. There's usually some new information divulged during the course of this, and the story doesn't drag as a result of this necessary rehashing.

My one real complaint with this book is a technical one rather than a literary one: books 4 and 5 no longer seem to be available as stand-alone novels, which means I'll have to invest in the 1-5 omnibus to finish the story. Of course, what happens at the end of book 3 means that this will definitely be happening at some point! A gripping tale, and one which has me quite eager to get back to Wool's world.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Song of Achilles

Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Pages: 368 (paperback)
Published: April 12th 2012
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing. As they grow into young men their bond blossoms into something far deeper — despite the displeasure of Achilles's mother. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned.

This story is set around the time of the Trojan war - about 3200 years ago. Greece was just a series of small, independently ruled kingdoms, and they waged war on the heretofore unbeaten city of Troy. Here we see the story of Achilles as he grows up and fights in this war. There are gods, goddesses, demi-gods and centaurs abounding in his journey with his best friend Patroclus.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book. What I knew about Achilles before reading it can be summed up in two (very short) sentences: Fabled warrior who fought against Troy when Helen ran away with Paris from whom the phrase 'Achilles heel' was taken. His heel was apparently his only vulnerable spot after his mother dipped him in a river giving him immortality, but held him by his heel as she did so.

Literally, this is everything I knew about Achilles before I started reading, most taken from the film Troy, and quite a lot only a myth - I doubt that he was immortal or a half-god. He was just a great warrior and myths abounded about him at the time.

This story is about Achilles, but less about his life than about his life with Patroclus. It is Patroclus who we first meet, and through whom we see Achilles. They pretty much grow up together from when they meet at age 10, and their relationship is definitely something wonderful.

Miller has obviously done her research - and as a lecturer of Ancient Greek you'd definitely hope so too - and seems to the know the story as it is recorded very well. The personalities of all the characters come through clearly, and there is always some level of logic to their actions. There is a lot of ancient Greek pop culture/mythology stuff thrown in there, but you never feel overwhelmed by it. Stories are told to demystify characters which would have been household names at the time, and gods and mythological creatures get the same treatment without unnecessary depth.

It covers a rather hefty length of time, 28+ years all told, but it skips over the unimportant parts very quicklys and focuses on those times where things actually happen, and all in all is written in a way which was very easy to read. I can't really pinpoint why, but I never had to work at reading it particularly. No, it wasn't the most gripping book in the world, but it was interesting and there were some places where it was definitely a page-turner.

As I said before, this book is really all about Patroclus and Achilles. It is wonderful seeing them grow up together and grow closer through their life together, and the end is a little bit heat-breaking. The depth of their feeling for each other is wonderfully portrayed, even if there is some question as to the exact nature of their relationship in actuality. You can see the ways in which they help each other, how they help each other to be better in so many ways and how they are utterly devoted to each other.

An interesting book, and something I'd easily recommend.